We rented a cabin by the river for a few days; packed up all our essential belongings and spent a few days in solitude reflecting, ruminating and scheming on our plans for 2013. We called it a Visionary Quest.
Rather than doing the typical boring resolutions-making at home, Dustin and I decided to do something a bit different this year (which somehow led to handstands on the dance floor with a toothless rodeo cowboy, but I’ll get to that later).
I’m going to share with you the exact process we used to identify and correct all the problems in our business, and the steps we took to create a strategic, doable plan we’re excited about executing in 2013. By the end of this, you’ll have an exact template you can follow to create your own visionary retreat.
But before we get into that, let’s talk about…
Why you need an annual (or even quarterly) visionary quest if you want do great work
It’s nearly impossible, no matter how mindful you are, to not get caught up in the daily current of your To Do list and plethora of projects. It’s easy to get really excited about whatever it is you’re working on and lose focus on what really matters.
View of the trains passing by the cabin that kept me awake more than a few times.
Every so often, you need to take stock to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Over time, we naturally evolve and change, and our desires shift. If our vision doesn’t move with our changed perspective, dissonance builds up rust and debris in our work over time.
We become stagnant. Tense. Out of alignment.
When we take time out of our action-packed lives we’re also able to create a space for reflection and looking back. If you’re trudging endlessly along your way without looking up, you’re probably not learning much. It’s kind of like going through a workout doing the same routine week after week without ever checking your form by looking at yourself in the mirror. You risk the possibility that you’ve been building strength but in the wrong areas, or that you’ve been conditioning poor movement patterns that lead to unnecessary fatigue and injury.
Taking a retreat and changing your environment helps create space for objective reflection and inspires a sense of renewal.
So the first step, like with anything worthwhile, is to define your purpose for the retreat.
Deciding your reason for going
- What do you most hope to get out of the time spent disconnecting, creating space and focusing on infinite possibility?
- What prompted this desire to create a space for reflection for you?
- What is the one thing you’d like most to walk away from your experience with?
Here were our reasons for heading out into the wilderness:
- To reconnect to our purpose and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
- To reflect on the journey, where we’ve come from, how far we’ve gone and where we want to go.
- To learn from our mistakes, failures and setbacks along the way.
- To do strategic planning from a place of possibility, excitement and positive expectancy.
We wanted to make sure we were doing the right things to create a business that we love, and based on our conversations lay the groundwork for an amazing vision that makes us excited to kick some serious ass.
What will your rules be?
The trip won’t be effective if you just do the same things you always do at home and behave the way you always do. The key here is to break your patterns to create a space and environment that’s separate from your normal routine. Part of this is accomplished by changing where you are but it’s more importantly changed by how you behave differently when you’re gone.
So it’s crucial that you determine what your terms will be for your own quest.
- What will you do different while you’re away from home?
- What will you disconnect or take a break from?
- What activities, rituals and practices will you engage in to support your quest?
Here were the rules Dustin and I decided on:
- Disconnecting from social media and every day distractions (we did agree to talk to our wives while we were gone).
- Time spent on reflection, meditation and journaling each day.
- Only positive expectancy and thinking big allowed.
- Pu’erh tea and lots of fruits and veggies were brought to support our mind and body during the excursion.
All of these things helped us create a space that felt different and contributed to a successful trip.
The next step is to decide…
Where will you go?
Choosing the right space for your visionary quest can be just as important as deciding your focus on the trip itself.
You want to choose a space nearby so not too much travel is necessary. You might select a cabin in the woods, a lodge near the closest river, an inn on the coast, or a hotel downtown. It really depends on what’s going to energize and ignite your spirit.
There’s also the option of creating a space within your home that’s completely separate from your everyday living area that you can retreat to for solitude and reflection. My wife’s done this in our home with her personal Goddess space that she regularly withdraws to for seclusion and recentering.
While this is an option, it’s generally easier to do this by going somewhere else that already has the qualities you’re looking for and removes you from your routine. Even if you create a separate space in your home to retreat to, you’re still going to be fighting the current of your everyday habits.
Since we went during the middle of winter in Northern Oregon, we looked for a place that felt like a cabin or camping trip, but without the need to rough it in any way. We wanted to focus primarily on our reason for coming without having to fight the elements or having to cook our meals over a campfire.
There are a lot of places to choose from around these parts. Oregon is known for its avid outdoors culture and way of life, so we’re pretty lucky in that regard.
After narrowing it down for a few weeks, we were left with two candidates: Sou’wester Lodge and Columbia Gorge Riverside Lodge. We ended up opting for the riverside lodge to be a bit more isolated and remote.
Even then, we were within walking distance from a town of a few hundred people (across the train tracks) that led to some fun adventures when we needed to get out and stretch our legs. On the final night, we ventured out into the tiny town and somehow ended up at Pauly’s Niteclub. Dustin egged me on to try out my breakdancing skills and I ended up doing this on the dance floor. (I wonder what the locals thought…)
We’re firm believers that every cabin should be equipped with its own framed kilt.
The next step is to create your agenda for the trip. We found a few essential Strategic Focus Areas we needed to cover for a successful retreat:
- Concentrated Review. What’s gone well and what hasn’t over the past year? What trends have we noticed? What are some major areas for improvement?
- Why Remembrance. Why are we doing what we’re doing? What kind of life and business are we trying to create?
- Core Desired Feelings. How do we want to feel while we’re working? Creatively alive? Blessed? Connected? (Note: For further exploration on this subject check out Danielle’s Desire Map book.)
- Uncompromising Principles. What are the key qualities and principles that our business should always be revolving around?
- Strategic Projects. What are the BIG projects we want to dive in to this year in order to actualize the business and life we want to create?
- Core Practices. What are the CORE practices we need to continually do on a consistent basis to bring our vision into reality?
Let’s jump into the first area:
This should ideally be very short and potent. Stick to the big trends.
- Focus on problems and roadblocks that keep arising.
- Notice what continually seems to be holding you back from where you want to go.
- Review the biggest successes and accomplishments from the previous year, then drill down more into last quarter. What’s consistently been your strongest area?
- What areas are your weakest with yourself? With your team?
- In what ways have you been unrealistic or shortsighted? What could have happened differently if you had the hindsight you do now?
For us, this amounted to realizing that we need to get back to our roots and focus more on creating amazing content for the blog. The blog is what built this business and it’s been somewhat neglected at certain times. It’s been a sporadic endeavor at best (and you can expect that to change big time this year!) and we haven’t been operating as powerfully as we know we can.
Another lesson we learned is to not try to take on too many projects at once. When we have too many projects and promotions going on, we lose our power. Our audience isn’t sure what they should focus on and pay attention to, and we end up creating stuff that’s “good enough” rather than amazing things we want to herald to the world.
We had a good four hour conversation talking about all of this on the first night, but decided that too much time spent talking about what can be improved only goes so far. It’s important to wrap it up quickly and move on to what you want to create.
The next step is to spend some time remembering why you’re doing this in the first place and create a strong foundation to move forward from. Connecting with your Why gives you energy, inspiration and recenters you spiritually to your work.
This is a simple process, so don’t make it too complicated. Just ask yourself this simple question:
Why do I want to do this work? Why does this matter to me?
Here’s what we came up with:
- We do this to help people bring life to their purpose and offer something to the world from the heart of their imagination.
- To help people embark on a personal Hero’s Journey that transforms themselves, their family and the world.
- We want to help people create lives they’re proud of.
- We want to dramatically transform the world of work.
- To inspire people to believe that a life of your dreams isn’t just reserved for the lucky or privileged.
- To be caught up in the ecstatic unfolding of creation.
- To make things that make us feel alive and proud.
- To be a craftsman, a creative agent of imagination.
- To build something of our own, our own vision, and not someone else’s we didn’t choose.
Core Desired Feelings
This is all about how you want to feel in your work and life. What do you want to be experiencing while your genius is pouring out from within you? While you’re creating your masterpiece, do you want to be in state of flow and ecstatic rapture, or at painful battle with your art?
In life you always have the ability to choose how you want to feel. And when you’re deliberate and take ownership for your feelings, it naturally leads to more powerful, aligned actions.
Here’s what I want to feel in my work:
- Creatively alive
At first it might seem easy to confuse Core Desires with Uncompromising Principles. And in truth, they are close relatives. They form a symbiotic relationship that helps each other thrive.
When you’re acting from your Core Feelings, you’re probably in alignment with your Uncompromising Principles (UPs).
In a way your UPs are both a manifestation of and a vehicle for the way you want to feel. They act as guides for steering your actions. Without them it’s easy to get lost, and although you’re working hard, you feel like there’s not a sense of purpose or meaning to what you’re doing.
While your Core Desired Feelings are personal, your UPs are universal for your business. They guide the actions of your team, your community and your work as a whole.
These are our UPs and why we chose them:
- Impact. Everything we do has to be useful and create positive change, first and foremost.
- Personally interesting. Yes, we serve a community, but we have to be connected to our work in a way that excites us as well as our audience.
- Innovation. We want to consistently push the boundaries.
- Fun. Nothing else really matters if it’s not fun most of the time.
- Integrity. We operate from a place of openness, honesty and authenticity with our work.
These principles help guide us to the projects we want to work on, the actions we’ll take and what we’re not willing to do.
The key now is to take the lessons learned, your goals, desires and principles and focus them all to decide the big projects and adventures you’ll undertake throughout the quarter or year.
I’d love to share with your all the juicy projects we have lined up for the year, but that would ruin all the fun, wouldn’t it? :)
However, I will tell you that what I like to do is divide projects up by quarter. I like to choose one BIG project for each quarter. That might be something like a live event, a product launch, a manifesto or a meetup tour. This is where all the big stuff goes.
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to take all of your dreams, goals and your beautiful, breathtaking vision and bring it down to earth.
What are the daily and weekly actions you’ll need to take to get you to where you want to go?
Here’s what we came up with:
- Creating mini experiences. These are pieces of content that are more interactive and experiential. Check out the one we just launched recently: If I Could Quit My Job, I would…
- Save 20% of revenue a month. The more we’re in a state of financial comfort and ease, the greater we can operate with creativity and abandon.
- Daily partner outreach. Everyone needs to be doing something every single day to grow and foster relationships that can build and expand our brand.
- Two amazing blog posts a month. If more flows, great. If not, we don’t push it. Intense quality, creativity and flow are a must.
- Micro movements. Small events that bring our community and other communities together. (More on this later.)
- Weekly Skype calls with potential partners. I want to do a better job of connecting with cool people doing great work that are either up and coming and working their asses off, or are well-established.
- Regular guest posts. Once a month. Somewhere with massive leverage.
- Weekly money and numbers meetings. Every single week we meet and talk about our most important numbers. Just a handful. Email list growth, revenue and conversion.
Converting your plan into powerful, dangerous action
A plan is nothing without dangerously focused action. There are lots of ways you can turn this plan into action. Basecamp and calendars work well for longer-term projects. Stickie notes and phone reminders work well for daily or weekly actions.
You’ll need to determine what type of system works best for you to make your plans more than just plans and turn them into realities.
Further resources and ideas:
- Chris Guillebeau has a great post on how to conduct an annual review you might be interested in.
- Scott Dinsmore has a great workbook on annual goal setting you might want to check out.
- Charlie Gilkey has some really stellar, top-notch monthly planners that can help you stay focused on what matters now.
Creating your own retreat
I hope you found this guide useful to you and that it inspires you to go on your own visionary quest.
Remember that you can design this however you want. This is the way we did it, and it’s just one way of doing it. The most important part is that you create a fun and memorable experience.
One last thing: If you got some value out of this, would you mind sharing it with one of the buttons below? I’d deeply appreciate it!
Kyle Richey says
This post came at an awesome time…I just booked a trip to Silicon Valley (to help a friend scope out jobs and apartments), and I plan on taking the time to reflect and learn from the differences between there and home.
Not quite the local wilderness, but it’ll do. :)
Eric West | Friendship Society says
Wow, you put a lot of thought into this. I like the idea of the visionary quest. I’m usually trying to fit everything in to my day, it would be nice to take a couple of days to focus on some things that I really want to do. I can see how it would be useful to get away from the typical daily tasks to gain focus.
Nate Dodson says
Thanks for this wonderfully detailed post. I think I’ll have to bookmark this bad boy! Man do I miss the columbia river gorge – need to get back out that way.
Kris Ward says
So much value in one post. Brilliant, detailed and so helpful. Gave me a ton of ideas for how to improve my own reflection and planning strategies, thank you! Looking forward to our interview today.
This is a powerful post Jonathan. It will become my quarterly quest field guide. I truly appreciate the thought, purpose, and passion your pour into posts like this. Thanks for leading by example.
My boss is not going to appreciate this LOL But I am doing it anyways!
July 4th@Portland, OR!
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